Statement by the Director-General World Food Day Ceremony
Theme: "Water: source of food security"
Rome, FAO Plenary Hall, 16 October 2002
Your Excellency, President Don Hugo Chávez Frías of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I wish to thank you all for being here with us to mark the 22nd observance of World Food Day. I am particularly honoured that His Excellency President Chávez was able to accept my invitation and to be with us today.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
World Food Day commemorates the founding of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations in Quebec City, Canada, on 16th October 1945, as the world faced the spectre of hunger and starvation at the end of the Second World War. FAO is charged with a very special and specific task - to ensure freedom from hunger for all mankind.
The right of everyone to have access to safe and nutritious food is affirmed in the opening statement of the Rome Declaration of the 1996 World Food Summit. This right was confirmed during the World Food Summit: five years later, held in Rome four months ago.
Statistics suggest that fewer people are undernourished today than a few years ago. However, although headway has been made and some striking success stories exist in individual countries and communities, much remains to be done. Just yesterday FAO published new information in its annual report on the State of Food Insecurity in the World, which shows that the number of undernourished people in the developing countries has been reduced by just 2.5 million people per year since the 1996 World Food Summit benchmark period of 1990-92. If we continue like this, it means that the total reduction of the number of hungry people in the world by 2015 will amount to less than 10 percent. That is a far cry from the 50 percent reduction upon which leaders from 186 countries and the European Community that met in Rome at the Summit in 1996 agreed.
"Water: source of food security." is the theme of World Food Day this year. Water is essential if we are ever to achieve sustainable food production that will meet the demands of a growing population, now and in the future. Careful water management will be crucial to grow the food we all need to lead productive and healthy lives.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Our planet is thirsty - thirsty because it is hungry. It takes one thousand times more water to feed the human population than it does to satisfy its thirst.
How are we to find and manage this colossal volume of water, rising inexorably with population growth? That is the message underlying this year's World Food Day.
Water lies at the core of sustainable development concerns, and its rational and equitable management is crucial for human survival. That was one of the key messages to arise from the World Summit on Sustainable Development that was held in Johannesburg this summer. Next year's Third World Water Forum in Japan will address this issue in greater depth.
It is therefore fitting that this year's World Food Day spotlights the role of water in food security. Without water, there can be no food production. In fact, the agricultural sector is the user of 70 percent of the planet's water supply. In a world in which per capita water availability is declining, we need to focus on appropriate water management if we are to sufficiently increase food production, with a view to reduce hunger and malnutrition, and feed a population expected to rise to 8 billion in 30 years' time.
Shortage of water threatens extensive agricultural regions in developing countries and fans the prospect of food crises. At present, twenty countries do not have enough water to produce the food their populations need. In some cases, the overexploitation of water resources undermines future agricultural production, while in others, their underexploitation inhibits development.
The poor account for one-half of the world's population. One-third of the poor live in countries that are affected by serious water shortages which they are unable to overcome because they lack the necessary technologies and financial resources. And many of these countries are also unable to foot their food import bills.
The combined vicious impact of poverty, rising demand for food and insufficient availability of water therefore poses a serious challenge for world food security and universal access to clean water. One billion people are deprived of clean water, and most of these people are also hungry. They live in rural areas and agriculture is their main source of income.
How are we to ensure water availability and food security, while safeguarding the environment? This is an important challenge. We need to produce more while using less water, to spare the part needed for use in homes and industry.
At present, more than one-third of the world's food production comes from the irrigated areas that make up 16 percent of the planet's arable land. Irrigated farming is at least twice as productive as rainfed farming, and during the next 30 years some 70 percent of additional food production in developing countries should come from irrigated land.
It is urgent to avoid poor irrigation practices that have often led to diminishing water supplies, land degradation and spread of disease. Far too often, more water is being pumped than can possibly be recharged. Also, too much water is being lost along canals, because of leakage, wastage, seepage or evaporation. Too many schemes are losing productivity because of inappropriate drainage, waterlogging and a build-up of salts in the soil.
We thus have to turn increasingly to the high-yield varieties and adopt improved cropping practices. It is also vital to carefully assess national soil and water resources, introduce appropriate and inexpensive technologies, adopt integrated watershed management, curb the upstream deforestation that generates flooding and erosion, and significantly increase investment in water control infrastructure. Finally, water use will be sustainable only if it is done in a socially equitable manner.
The battle of water will be won only with the active participation of the small farmers, both men and women, adequately trained and committed to the new and efficient practices.
New water policy, and institutions and laws will facilitate the integrated management of river basins and water resources by all stakeholders, in a climate of transparency, accountability and social justice.
The cooperation of all development partners, the public, private and non-profit sectors at national and international level, will be indispensable to resolve conflicts of interest, mobilize substantial financial resources and create conditions for a fairer distribution of food and water.
The countries of Africa, the Middle East and southern Asia that are already facing serious water shortages will see their situation rapidly worsen unless there is stronger solidarity between the regions of abundance and the regions of scarcity. Such solidarity is necessary if we are to avoid a proliferation and aggravation of tensions relating to water.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Recent summits have led to a noticeable surge in mobilization of better informed public opinion. The media in many countries have sharpened their understanding and analysis of the issues for a higher quality of information. Everywhere, civil society organizations, and especially farmers' organizations, are becoming more organized and more competent. An increasing number of farmers are actively engaged in the quest for an agriculture that is sustainable.
Today, as we celebrate World Food Day in Rome, thousands of men and women are gathered in all parts of the globe to promote the right of all the poor to have access to adequate food and clean water in a safeguarded environment.
These men and women are calling for an International Alliance against Hunger rooted within national boundaries, but that transcends local interest for the sake of a better and more humane global village.
I thank you for your kind attention.
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